The other day, I spoke with a friend who had good news. In a battered economy, a battered job market, and for this person, a battered personal profession, he had good news. After some hard work a break had come his way, and my immediate reaction was to tell him how happy I was for him. That compliment was rebuffed, with a few mumbled words: “Oh, I think I was just lucky.”
A few minutes later, I tried to compliment him again. This time, I was serenaded with a depressed, “Thanks, but it probably won’t amount to much.” When I tried to give a compliment a third time, I received yet another apologetic response. At that point, I was sorry I even bothered, but it also made me think. Why is accepting a compliment so difficult for so many of us?
- Is it superstition? I’m a pretty superstitious guy myself, but are we really going to let superstition stop us from graciously accepting a compliment? If our superstition centers around a fear of not receiving any more compliments, discounting a compliment may very well prove to be a self fulfilling prophecy.
- Is it modesty? Last time I checked, receiving a compliment from someone else is quite different from blowing one’s own horn.
- Is it a learned behavior? Personally, I think we are taught at a young age to step away from a compliment, and brush it off to avoid the risk of sounding arrogant.
It was my father-in-law who taught me a simple approach to handle something as simple as a compliment. Every time I finished a seminar, a few people would quietly come up and slip a compliment my way. I would respond with a typical, “Oh, that really wasn’t my best” or “Normally, I’m a little sharper during my Q & A sessions.” Then he encouraged me to look at this from a different angle – from the angle of the person who was complimenting me.
He also was reminded that when someone pays you a compliment, it’s a very important moment for that person. Someone has been so moved by something you did that he or she felt a need to step forward, move past his or her own fear, and awkwardly tell you something that is somewhat personal. With this knowledge, are you still sure you want to reward this leap of faith by another person with the phrase, “that really wasn’t my best today?”
The solution is an easy one. It requires a few moments of placing your hands on your computer keyboard, or grabbing a pen and paper, and writing out a phrase or two that feels comfortable for you. My phrase goes something like this:
“That means a great deal to me, and I can’t thank you enough for those kind words.”
This is usually greeted with a smile, a handshake, and a look of satisfaction on the face of the person who had the courage to offer those thoughtful words. Oh, and it will make you feel pretty good about yourself as well.